If you enjoyed Nomadland, which hit big at last night’s Academy Awards, then Mongrel Media president and founder Hussain Amarshi is betting that you will also enjoy director Chloé Zhao’s previous film, the acclaimed neo-Western The Rider. That 2017 drama, which put Zhao’s name on the indie-film map, will soon be one of the 150 titles available to stream after Amarshi launches Mongrel Home Cinema on April 30.
The new digital streaming service arrives as Canada’s preeminent distributor of art-house film seeks new market share in an increasingly tumultuous industry landscape. With upward of 90 per cent of Canadian theatres shuttered and no indication of when operations will be back to pre-pandemic levels, Mongrel is hoping to use its leverage in the prestige-cinema world to draw in home audiences exhausted by Netflix fare.
“Cinema lovers regularly tell us that they spend more time on platforms searching for films than actually watching them. We’ve responded to that sentiment by bringing a carefully curated collection of films under one roof, creating a service that will make subscribers feel as if they are entering a boutique rather than a big-box store,” Amarshi, who founded Mongrel in 1994, said in a statement. “The films cross many genres, but they share a common trait: great storytelling.”
The service, a partnership with U.S. indie distributor Magnolia Pictures, will debut with a catalogue including such acclaimed international productions as Boyhood, Whiplash, A Prophet and Toni Erdmann, as well as Canadian films Take This Waltz and Brooklyn. Ten new titles will be added on the first Tuesday of every month (The Rider will be available May 4). The service, which costs $6.99 a month or $69.99 annually, will be available online at MongrelHomeCinema.com or through Android and iOS apps. (It is set to be accessible via Apple TV at a later date.)
Mongrel Home Cinema will face a number of competitors in the domestic digital and subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) market, including niche services that target the same art-house crowd (streamers Criterion Channel, MUBI, and IFC Films Unlimited, plus online rental portal digital TIFF Lightbox, the latter of which launched this past summer).
As well, Kanopy and Hoopla currently stream Mongrel titles for users who belong to certain Canadian library systems, including the Toronto Public Library, at no cost. Kanopy, for instance, offers Paterson, Maudie and Boyhood, among other Mongrel catalogue titles, while Hoopla has Toni Erdmann, Elle and In Fabric. Technically, those titles aren’t free; when Kanopy or Hoopla users watch films, the rental fees are paid by the members’ respective libraries.
“Those are virtual libraries, so you can’t compare [Mongrel Home Cinema] to other services. And we certainly know that the more places you make things available, the better it is for the title,” said Andrew Frank, Mongrel’s vice-president of sales and acquisitions, in an interview. “We have between 1,500 and 2,000 titles of our own, not including Magnolia’s, so we’re going to be constantly refreshing the service.
“With the larger SVOD services looking to make their own content, this is about how we best service our titles and make them most available to our customers. Mongrel is a brand that audiences trust, same with Magnolia.”
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